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Theological Insights from Southwestern


Spiritual Neurosurgery: Islamic Traditions, Discipling Converts, & Missionary Theological Education


“Jesus existed as God the Father, sir. Then He ceased being the Father and became God the Son. Finally, He ceased being God the Son and now in the world today He is God the Holy Spirit.” Innocently, a new disciple of my former student was trying to express his carefully reasoned understanding of three in one, the tri-unity of the Christian Godhead to whom he committed his life and possibly someday his death.

Emerging from a Muslim background, diligent study and consistent practice were not new to him. Even before believing Christ, he studied and memorized the Qur’an and faithfully practiced the pillars of Islamic belief. Qur’anic study brought him to other literature like the Torah, Zabur, Injeel and increased curiosity about the Prophet Isa. He and two diligent friends met foreigners with very pure lives that became fast friends and gave them the very books they were so curious about in their language. This Isa was similar but different from the one in the Qur’an. He seemed less distant, more personal, and real. Soon he and his friends trusted Jesus alone as savior.

Taught to study the Bible, they grew in Christ. Bit by bit the framework of an ingrained Islamic pre-understanding was transforming into a biblical one. The Trinity now became clear and simple to understand. The young missionary recognized their joyful new understanding of it they had just expressed to be an ancient heresy known as modalism. Biblical Tri-unity of God is three persons in one God, simultaneously and eternally, with no divisions of nature or being. How to suggest this to three new eager disciples without dampening their desire to learn was the question.

The missionary told them he was intrigued by their ideas and wanted to study this thoroughly along with them. He realized if he didn’t do this, other outsiders would lead them further astray. They began an intensive three-month Bible study. The missionary usually posed questions that guided the group study, his three young disciples, like Bereans long ago, searched the Scriptures, and together they came to a very different outcome of belief months later, one very akin to Chalcedonian Christology of 451 A.D. In cross-cultural, change agent roles sometimes knowing what questions to ask is even more important in the communication processes than knowing the answers to provide. After many cultural faux pas, usually missionaries learn this.

My former student, now a missionary, recalled that at that moment when his three former Muslim new believers joyfully explained their original formula for the Trinity, his reasons for attaining a seminary education all came into focus for him. Most of a three-year curriculum in seminary he found very useful. He had needed bits and pieces of it at different times, but nearly all of it coalesced into one sequence addressing this set of needs.

Boldness of witness developed as he shared his faith as part of his evangelism classes and became acutely aware of people’s lostness without the gospel. God had long been preparing these three Muslim men and intersected their lives with the young missionary’s who was prepared to be bold enough to lead them to Christ. Now, as they came to this theological crossroad in their growth, the missionary needed historical and systematic theology to recognize the problem of modalism. A course in Islamic studies shed light on why his disciples formulated modalistic solutions from residual ideas in the Qur’an they memorized as boys. His seminary studies in Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew, and Greek assisted him in studying the concepts for the Godhead more in depth and his cross-cultural communication, anthropology and other missiological studies guided him in knowing how to bundle these things together. Because of the time he spent earnestly studying these things, he could assist them in doing their own self-theologizing without damaging their desires and drive to grow in Christ and to lead Christ’s church in the underground witness among other new Muslim background believers in that place where there were growing levels of persecution and threats.

If someone wants to get on a plane, land in a country, live there, learn some of the language and witness to a few neighbors, then perhaps they don’t need seminary training, at least for very long. What will they do if they pray diligently to see a culture radically changed for Christ, for deep transformation to transpire? That is when a spiritual neurosurgeon is needed who can be an instrument in the Holy Spirit’s hands to “renew the mind” Romans 12:1-2. Missionaries should be prepared, to prepare others, as they in turn prepare yet others for eternity with Christ! Substantive biblical, theological, and missiological study found in seminary prepares us for spiritual “neurosurgery.”

Should I get a PhD in Apologetics?


The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is “for almost everyone, still no.” The even longer and needlessly provocative answer is that “any PhD gained by a Christian has (or should have) Apologetics in it.”

I often get asked the title question, especially ever since Southwestern Seminary rolled out its new MA in Christian Apologetics. Christian Apologetics, by its very nature, is a multidisciplinary field of study. To be sure, there are the characteristic areas that typically comprise a study of apologetics. For example, a mainstay of the discipline is issues in Philosophy of Religion. In Phil. Religion we talk about arguments for God’s existence, the coherence of theism (including doctrines that might appear to be in tension with each other as well other problems, such as the problem of evil). This of course fits well within the scope and purpose of Apologetics. Thus, philosophy is a really important area for doing apologetics. However, doing a degree in philosophy does not adequately prepare one to be able to defend against the great variety of challenges and objections that come from other disciplines.

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Theological Tailgating


You’ve seen them. They are the bumper bullies of the highway. Any day of the week, on any highway, and most any time of the day they are out there driving too fast, weaving in and out of lanes, and aggressively driving too close to the bumper of the car in front of them. Frankly, if you are close enough to read the fine print of the Southwestern Seminary sticker on the back of my car, you are driving too close!

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Turning Boys into Men


Sports talk radio is not my normal stop when looking for solid theological content and cultural commentary. However, I found a little of both this week on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike.” The story du jour was the video of Ray Rice hitting his fiancée and knocking her unconscious in an elevator. Nothing new was said about the facts, but the commentary from Hall of Fame wide-receiver Cris Carter was impeccable.

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If you never swing the bat, you will never hit the ball


My 10-year-old son Will and I share a common love—baseball.

While he’s not naturally gifted at playing the game, Will loves to be part of the team, and as with most kids his age his skills have progressed each year through repetition and practice.

This past spring, Will graduated from coach-pitch to kid-pitch, which brought with it both excitement and anxiety. However, after only a few games I could see that anxiety largely overshadowed the excitement.

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The Royalty of Immediate Action


Abraham was considered a prince.

However, he was not royalty. No blue blood, just the hot blood of a nomad coursing through his veins.  He was literally a professional wanderer, wandering at the call of God. When his wife Sarah died, he went to the land of the Hittites who graciously allowed him to bury his wife in their land, saying, “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us” (Gen. 23:5). Would to God people may say that about us. All accolades aside, what if those around us sensed that we were divinely set apart? What made this man so princely? Easy, really: he was a good follower.

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The Colonization of the Call: An encouragement for those residing in their call


In a few moments students will fill MacGorman Chapel for the convocation of the fall semester. They represent many states, nations, churches and families. This is the sobering reality that makes me want to craft each word in class as an act of stewardship. These are students who have chosen not to colonize in their home church, but pioneer to a different place as an expression of God’s next step. Their obedience is an earnest reminder that that there is a time to colonize, and a time to pioneer.

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Raising Up Teenage Spiritual Champions


Our liberal friends are not too keen on the idea of student achievement in schools. Last week I heard of another high school that no longer will conduct awards assemblies at the end of the year. Progressives want to pull achieving young people back into the mushy middle.

But are we doing something similar at church? In most churches, don’t we only offer foundational discipleship that leads to a mostly bland faith for the entire group?

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Help My Unbelief


Most of us can readily identify with the man who came to Jesus one day with a tragic, seemingly impossible situation. The man’s son was afflicted with demonic possession. The father’s description of the symptoms is heart-breaking: “A spirit …has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid,” (Mark 9:17-18). Previously, the father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but they were powerless to help. Now the dad stands before Jesus with the frantic plea: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v. 22). Read More »

A REACHing Church


The Power of a Simple Invite

A study produced by LifeWay Research last year found that 80% of those who attend church one or more times a month believe they have a “personal responsibility to share their faith.” On the surface it seems that our churches are doing a good job of communicating the need for evangelism. If you continue looking at the research however, it goes on to show that while people agree there is a need to share the Gospel, rarely do they actually do it! (Churchgoers Believe in Sharing Faith, Most Never Do by John D. Wilke)

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LAUNCH: Creating a Culture of Everyday Evangelism [VIDEO]


On June 11, Southwestern Seminary hosted a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to discuss how churches can create a culture of everyday evangelism and reach their communities with the gospel. Pastors and SBC leaders from across the country shared their experiences with leading their churches and training their congregations in personal evangelism. Below is the video introduction for the panel discussion, which features the late evangelism professor Roy Fish recounting his “Three Driving Forces for Evangelism,” and the full version of the panel discussion. Read More »

Shall We Preach, or Shall We Teach?


The essential distinction between preaching and teaching in the New Testament is the difference between scuba diving, on the one hand, and snorkeling, on the other. In snorkeling, one observes the pristine beauty of the marine world with its variety of ichthyological life, but with scuba one discovers intricacies unobservable from the surface. Snorkeling has its dangers (boats, jet skis, diving swimmers, and so on), while the lurking dangers of the deep are more subtle (lion fish, sea snakes, and a condition called “narcosis,” in which a diver becomes so drunk that he may, with great confidence, remove his mask and offer it to a passing grouper). Read More »

Why Southern Baptists Declined and What to Do, Part 2


In Part 1 of this assessment, I alleged four things:

  • First, a loss in numbers among Southern Baptists is more asset than liability.
  • Second, baptisms are down because we have ceased witnessing as we ought. Yes, I know that the issue is more complicated than that. There are complicating factors, but all of these are easily overcome by aggressive, though wise, personal witness.
  • Third, I argue that the church’s embrace of the culture has substantially weakened the witness of the people of God.
  • Finally, I asserted that theology conditions witness. A thousand denials meet this avowal, but the exceptions, for which I am grateful, do not alter the stark reality of the whole.

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Why Southern Baptists Declined and What to Do, Part 1


The lugubrious prognostications about Baptist futures are known and experienced by all. LifeWay annually tells the sad story of reversals in numbers, and statisticians weigh in on the analysis. The latest major assessment comes from Molly Worthen, appearing recently on The Daily Beast. As I view all of this, I do not find myself, as do some, in a hand-wringing posture. I am concerned but hardly in panic. The following observations will spell out why I am actually finding some reasons for rejoicing. Read More »

Preparing your kids for the apologetic challenges for all of life


Most of us make up our minds on worldview matters when we are relatively young. The process of worldview formation itself begins as early as one starts to form thoughts about the world. When we are young, we absorb (as if by a process of osmosis) categories and concepts from the influencers around us (parents, siblings, friends, school, media, etc.), which constitute our worldview. This is not to say that we cannot change our worldview when we are older, but all the statistics support the notion that doing so happens much more rarely after a particular point in our lives: the college years. So the college years are that pivotal moment when our thoughts on how to understand the world in its most basic categories crystallize. Read More »

Resident Aliens, Secret Church, and Witches in the Wardrobe


A witch, a lion, a wardrobe closet, or leaders of a nationwide network of secret churches throughout China? I walked through the back of a closet built into a wall in a remote rural Chinese farmhouse wondering which it would end up being—it certainly was not Narnia. An invitation came to join other professors and teach 100 underground leaders from all four geographic corners of that big place in 2003. Read More »

Don’t Waste Your Parenthood: Preparing Children to be Adults


The majority of those 18 to 25:

  • Do not have a clear vocational focus nor the drive to move forward vocationally.
  • Do not feel motivated to achieve independence in their finances or life situation.
  • Do not feel ready to accept the lifetime commitments that marriage entails.
  • Do not feel ready to parent.
  • Do not like to delay gratification for a greater good.
  • Do not like to work hard for long hours at uninteresting tasks to achieve a goal.

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The Church Needs Philosophers and Philosophers Need the Church


“Who cares what Aristotle thinks about a severed hand,” retorted an exasperated philosophy student on a wintery night in a Midwestern university. My lecture screeched to a halt. As the class stared at me, enjoying the showdown, the subtext of my student’s comment was not lost on them or me: “Aristotle’s view of substance provides me with no ‘real world’ benefit, so it is useless knowledge.” Read More »

What is the Value of Apologetics?


There are, on my view, a variety of values that can be had by practicing what we call Apologetics. Let’s first say what Apologetics is as a discipline. In its most general sense, apologetics is a preparatory discipline where one readies oneself to commend and defend the truth of Christianity. What immediately comes to mind for many of us are the overly cerebral arguments one may offer in defense of the faith. These are the ones that, for many, cause immediate eye glazing to occur. They may include formal arguments for God’s existence; historical evidence for the resurrection; addressing challenges, such as the so-called problem of evil; alleged contradictions in Scripture; and alleged moral issues in Scripture as well as a whole host of other academic topics. These are indeed in the corpus of Apologetics topics. However, on my view, commending and defending the faith may at times be much less cerebral. Read More »

Christ in the Old Testament


In Luke 24 Jesus showed Himself alive to His disciples and explained that the cross and resurrection, and indeed much else in His life, were predicted in Scripture. Verse 27 states: “Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Then in verse 44, He told them “that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Read More »

Top 10 Questions about Your Church’s Ministry with Teenagers


If I were a senior pastor I would print the following list of questions, and I would take it to staff meeting for discussion. I would expect discussion to involve everyone. For example, I would expect those in ministry with children to consider how 12 years in their program will address question #1. I would expect those in adult ministry to have much to say about questions #7-9. I would expect those who lead senior adult ministry to address question #10 with creativity. And of course, I would keep the youth pastor at the heart of all the conversations. Read More »

Do Not Neglect the Table: A Reminder to Parents


I remember wondering why I could not have the little piece of bread and the small cup of juice that my friend Noel was able to take. I did not question my parents on that Sunday morning, but later asked my mom and she explained that Noel had given his life to Jesus, and you could only take the Lord’s Supper after you had become a Christian. She then explained the Lord’s Supper and the gospel. It was the beginning of my searching and as I was further exposed to the gospel (particularly one night at the parsonage at Falls Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina) eventually on June 14, 1981 my mom led me to the Lord and I put my faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Read More »

Church Revitalization: Let’s Keep the Conversation Going


There is a conversation that is getting louder in Southern Baptist circles, and it is one that I am very excited about. The SBC website says we are a network of over 45,000 churches with nearly 16 million members, but the reality is that we have a great percentage of churches that are plateaued or declining. I have seen statistics showing between 70 to 80 percent of our Southern Baptist churches are at this point. Any honest observation would admit there are many sick, dying, or even dead-and-just-do-not-realize-it-yet churches. Read More »

Stop, Drop, & Pray!


If you have walked in Christian circles for any amount of time at all, it has happened to you. An individual confides in you about a prayer need in his or her life and requests that you would pray for them. How do we respond? I’ve never heard anyone say, “No, I don’t have time for that, but good luck.” Of course not, we normally quickly respond that we will pray and go on about our business. Sometimes we remember the request and pray about it quickly, but I will confess there have been times in my life that I have completely forgotten about the matter and have been unfaithful in my commitment to pray for my brother or sister. In essence, I have lied to someone. I told them I would do something and failed to do it. Read More »